Most pregnant women are careful about what they eat and drink while they prepare to deliver a healthy baby. But some expecting mothers may not realize that the prescription narcotics they're taking as painkillers can be dangerous for their babies—even though those drugs are given by a doctor.
According to a new study published online April 13 in the journal Pediatrics and conducted using the medical records of more than 112,000 Tennessee pregnant women, the use of prescription narcotic painkillers—including drugs like hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin), oxycodone (brand name Oxycontin), codeine, and morphine—was common. And it drove up the chances of early delivery, low birth weight, or even a challenging withdrawal period from the drugs for the baby.
Nearly 30 percent of the moms in the study used at least one of those drugs during her pregnancy. And the risk of those troubling outcomes for baby went up if the expecting women were also medicated with antidepressants, or if they smoked.
"I was surprised by the number of women prescribed opioid pain relievers in pregnancy," wrote lead author Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "I was also surprised by how commonly women smoked in pregnancy, and how much that increased the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome [problems faced by babies exposed to drugs in utero] among those who also used opioid pain relievers in pregnancy."
If it seems like more and more studies are looking into this issue lately, and more and more media reports are talking about it, there's a good reason for the attention: Overall rates of women taking prescription painkillers have doubled since 2000. And by now we know it's worth seriously considering whether that Vicodin is essential for pain during pregnancy.
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